Long Duration Isolations

And no, I’m not talking here about solitary confinement in the slammer.  What I’m referring to is an isolation hold in a given exercise movement, at that movement’s most extreme joint angle, i.e., the joint angle of least favorable mechanical advantage.  You might also have heard these referred to as eccentric quasi-isolations (EQIs).  How long of an isolation hold are we talking about here?  How  about a full five minutes — eventually.  But we’ll start of with less, though — much less — and buildup to the full five minute mark.  Maybe.  And I say “maybe” because this methodology is — though it might not sound very much so — beyond difficult, both physically and psychologically.

I like to sprinkle these in throughout the week, mostly on “off” days, shuffling through about seven different position holds.  The push-up, squat and lunge positions (and their variations) comprise the core of the options here, but there’s absolutely no need to limit yourself to these positions.  Take just about any exercise you can conjure, figure out that movement’s CJA (critical joint angle, i.e., the angle of least mechanical advantage), and stick a hold in that position.  Use additional weight if need be — take the biceps curl as an example of an exercise that would require additional loading.  Also, LDIs (or EQIs, if you prefer that terminology) are great for those times when it’s impractical to get to the gym, or get outside — or, as in my situation over the last few days. — foul weather, mixed with company, leaving little opportunity for other workout options.  Another bonus to this methodology is that — in a bit of irony — although it’s fast-twitch intensive, (a bit of irony in and of itself) it is very easy on the central nervous system.

The LDI/EQI method itself is deviously quite simple.  Take the basic push-up as an example: assume the push-up position, then lower yourself into a full stretch and a nice, tight plank, with your chest hovering just a fraction from the floor.  Now, hold this position for 5 minutes.  Sounds easy, huh?  Yeah, that’s what I thought when I fist attempted them.  Just give it a shot and tell me if it doesn’t re-define time for you.  Never thought 20 seconds could last so damn long, didja?  Ok, so start off with 2-minute holds, and when you do have to take a break, make it only as long as it takes to draw and exhale 3 big breaths, then re-assume the position until your 2 minutes are up.  A curious thing will happen in as short as a week — not only will you be able to significantly lengthen the position’s hold time, but your strength in both the flat bench and the various shoulder presses will increase as well.   Hmmmm.

But why should this be, you ask?  What’s going on here, — physiologically speaking — with this methodology?  Now, I don’t claim to understand the science behind why this methodology works, though I’ve studied it vigorously and I do think I have a pretty good handle on things.  From what I’ve been able to distill from the (sometimes) vague sources that I can find, here is the gist of what’s going on when you do an LDI/EQI:

  1. neural programming (if done correctly) at the proper exercise positions/stances
  2. a tremendous fast-twitch muscle fiber activation (and a prolonged activation) at a low CNS “cost”
  3. tendon/ligament stretch (especially the golgi tendons) and strengthening

Now, what can I say, empirically, about LDIs/EQIs?  They do work, simple as that.  They are also extremely friggin’ boring.  Seriously boring.  However, the mental conditioning required to persevere with these also adds to the acquisition of a certain mental toughness.  They are also great in a pre-hab/re-hab sense, and I do employ them quite often as a pre-pre-warm-up tool, i.e., soon after I get up in the morning, prior to my hour-long commute to work/the gym.  I’ve found it is best not to use them immediately prior to (i.e., as a warm-up tool) the “meat”of a workout, as these are a workout in and of themselves.

A discussion on the proper uses of (and the supporting hows and whys of) LDIs/EQIs could go on, ad nauseam.  Here’s a forum discussion thread that delves much further into the subject of LDIs/EQIs than I’d ever be able to do here.  You’ll see plenty of references in this thread to Jay Schroeder, as he is — I guess you could say — the “developer” (for lack of a better term) of this methodology.  Of course, that itself could be disputed as well, and Schroeder himself is as controversial a figure as you’ll find anywhere.  My point here is not to take sides in a Jay Schroeder debate — I certainly have my opinions on his training methods (positive, for the most part) — my point here is simply to introduce you to yet another methodology that I believe works (and that I employ myself), and that you can keep readily at hand in your own workout toolbox.  This is just another example of there being an opportunity hidden within every obstacle.  I believe that the more tools you have at your disposal, the less likely you are to be tripped-up by an unfortunate or unforeseen event.

Give them a shot and see what you think.  I suggest starting with the basic push-up hold, and maybe the squat or lunge hold.  You can do these as often as you like, but I wouldn’t do them just prior to a regular workout, as they’ll render that workout worthless.  If you use them as a “pre-warm-up” like I do, give yourself about an hour’s recovery time before diving into the real McCoy.

In Health,

Keith

11 responses to “Long Duration Isolations

  1. Hey Keith,

    Great post. I never heard of this LDI category of exercises. I took a “core and more” class a few months ago and we did planks among other core exercises I never used to do. Since then I have mixed them into my workouts a couple of times a week or so. I do them for a minute on front, side and back. At first getting a minute was torture on all but my left side, which is stronger for some reason. Over the same period I have gotten stronger in several exercises, which backs up a bit of what you mentioned. My front plank is a wussy on the elbows style. Based on this I will be switching to the low push up position instead.

    This does remind me of a question I asked previously. I stumbled across the slow burn and SST technologies and asked about those. I had decided not to try those seriously, but this post makes me think again on that. In between the explosive(your usual) and the static(LDI) could be to do the slower techniques once in a while. They claim the similar fast twitch improvements as well. I still sense the best way to go for the “go to” workout is explosive on the concentric and slow/negative on the eccentric, but mixing LDI and SST might make sense to do once in a while. I am curious as to your thoughts on that.

    While I am at it(sorry for long comment), what do you think about the alactic sets that Art Devany has posted about earlier. I have been mixing those in to my workouts and sense it is helping on strength. Do you do those? Any comments?

    thanks,

    jeff

  2. Keith,

    I’ve often wondered about these, but I actually thought (it was just a hunch) that these would be counter-productive to developing powerful fast twitch muscle. I’ll gladly bite that the opposite is true, but one question I have about their application: would these be a good finisher to a workout, where different muscle groups had been emphasized? For example, if I did a squat dominant workout, where the upper body wasn’t emphasized, would pushup holds be beneficial after? Or would I not benefit as much as doing them fresh, due to any CNS exhaustion?

    Many thanks.

    -bryce

  3. Jeff,
    If I remember correctly, Art’s alactic sets were analogous to the rest-pause method that I employ (1 rep,rest a few seconds, second rep…). Now, Art seems to keep within a 5 or so rep window with these, where I’ll go anywhere from 5 to 20, depending on my means. And, yes, I do employ this method fairly often. I like his hierarchical set scheme, as well, for a good change of pace. As far as my reluctance with the slow burn/SST, though, it is purely empirical. Note that the vast majority of my dealings have been with and around competitive athletes. I consider my own training to be on par with a competitive power (sprint) athlete in the GPP phase of preparation — sometimes dipping into the specialized phase. Now I can say, empirically speaking, that SST, for these populations, is not an effective tool. For the general, unconditioned individual, I certainly would not rule out that there might be some merit with this methodology. If I were to train an unconditioned individual though, I would not use this methodology in lieu of more power-based (fast-twitch dominant) methods. As always, though, I acknowledge that there is more than one way to skin a cat. Now, back to the LDI/EQIs, strange as it seems, these are much closer to an explosive movement than to an SST/slow burn movement. Study how a muscle reacts under various loading and under various “stretch” conditions and this will become clear. Muscle fibers (fast twitch IIbs) in an isolation condition are not static, but actually in a rapid firing/releasing mode. The CNS-muscle connection is a fascinating area of study.

    Bryce,
    Yes, most definitely, this is one way to apply them. Personally, though, I would rather do them apart from any “normal” workout — but that just fits with my schedule. One thing to consider, too, is the fact that (as an example) although the lower body is not taxed so much in the plank (push-up) position, after a tough lower-body workout, though, it may get wiggy during the hold & limit your overall hold performance. I have done a dip hold following a lower-intensive workout, though, with good results. Just pick & choose wisely and see how well you perform (and recover).

  4. I often do an isometric as part of my version of a hierarchical set.

    Usually I do this with squats and pushups. The idea is to go from an isometric hold to a loaded move to a fast free move to a plyo / explosive move.

    So, for squats it is 30 seconds iso hold in the low squat / thighs parallel to ground, immediately into 8 goblet squats with a 20kg dumbbell, then immediately into 10 quick “air” squats then straight to 10 squat jumps.

    I do something similar with pushups.

    The idea comes patly from DeVany’s hierachical sets, but more from Vern Gambetta’s spectrum squats – Isometric>>>>Resisted>>>>Dynamic>>>> Ballistic.

    http://functionalpathtraining.blogspot.com/2007/11/spectrum-squat-workout.html

    It is about targeting the fast twitch fibres.

  5. You’re correct, Chris, that’s another good variation of the same basic physiological idea. And thanks for the link. VG is a true depository of no-nonsense, old school knowledge.

  6. I’ve been doing somehting like with the kettlebells or dumbells: press up then hold the weights out. I do it both pronated (for the shoulders) and supinated (shoulders + biceps) With a moderate weight I can go for about 30 seconds… then 20… then 10… then showers.

    Might be fun to do this as a long-hold bodyweight squat, then do jump squats or box jumps with a weight.

  7. Keith,

    I am having a hard time understanding the extreme joint ankle for a posistion like the lunge.

    I understand with the pushup you get deep into a stretch barely hovering the floor. Would this mean you would want to get into the deepest lunge(a good stretch) that you could hold?

    I want to understand the Extreme joint ankle so I can apply this to verious posistions.

    • Yes, you’ll want to get into as deep a lunge as possible — really feel it in your front leg glute/ham and you rear leg hip extender. After a bit, your front quad will begin screaming as well. It’s better if you have a couple of platforms to stand on; as you sink really low into the lunge, you’ll hit the point where your back knee will be below your front foot.

  8. Surprisingly, every single comment here from the blog post itself down to the comment right before this one I am typing is completely missing the mark on LDI training. First off, the “I” stands for ISOMETRIC, not isolation. That’s pretty important. Second, when done correctly these are not tiring. Painful while performing, yes, but 5-10 minutes afterwards all pain and stiffness is gone and you will actually feel a LOT better! I too thought these were tiring until I realized I was not doing them correctly. Now, to be fair, doing LDI holds correctly is an acquired skill and you should not expect to be doing it perfectly right away. As long as you work hard at trying to improve your form each and every time you do them, which should definitely be every day, you will eventually get it right.

    What has been described, and described fairly well, is the effect that isometric training has in general.

    The “extreme joint angle” is quite literally the most stretched angle possible. That will change over time, both during the 5 minute hold and from month to month as your muscles elongate. The difference between isometrics in every other position and the long duration, extreme joint angle isometrics (or iso-extremes as Jay Schroeder calls them) is that there is no opposing contraction. Not ONLY is there no concentric opposition to the stretch, you are not just letting gravity pull you… you are pulling YOURSELF with the antagonistic muscle groups.

    Examples:

    Lunge: When in the lunge, you are trying to push your crotch into the floor while keeping the back leg perfectly straight and contracting the gluteal muscles of the back leg to try and force your body lower. With the front leg you are trying to pull your heel towards your butt and your knee towards your head. All of this is done with weight 100 percent on the balls of the feet and with a straight spine, no huge arching of the lumbar.

    Push up: You can not do this with hands on the floor. Your chest can easily go past your palms and with the floor in the way you can not achieve the extreme joint angle for this hold. I use two cinder blocks stacked on top of each other for hand elevation, which makes 2 stacks of 2 blocks. That’s about 16 inches of elevation. I elevate my feet on the stairs, second stair.

    To perform the push up correctly, not only must your hands, at the very least, be elevated enough to where no matter how hard you try you can not touch your chest to the ground, but you must actively TRY to touch your chest to the ground! That’s right! You’re trying to open the chest as much as possible. Not only are you not supporting yourself concentrically, you are supposed to actively try and retract the scapulae and pull your hands as far behind your chest as possible. You want your upper arms to be at around a 45 degree angle from your body.

    The push up is much easier than the lunge, but both are massively uncomfortable. The lunge, I am afraid, is incredibly painful. Stick through it and do everything you can to actively pull down!

    The other positions are of somewhat lesser importance, but should absolutely be practiced by serious athletes.

    “Why, Slizzardman!? Why do you suggest I torture myself so? What the hell will I get out of this besides a great tolerance for pain?”

    Well, what a great imaginary question!

    Outside of building strength in the bottommost range of motion for the given hold, the first major benefit is that you will be strengthening the connective tissue directly. The fascia of the muscles will become thicker and stiffer very quickly, and fascial stiffness has a direct positive correlation to power output. The stiffer your fascia, the more power you can generate. The tendons also get stronger when exposed to long-duration submaximal loading, which is what the LDIs are.

    Why does this fascial thickening occur? When you are performing LDIs correctly you will be pulling the agonist muscles into an extreme stretch. At maximal length, the tension is primarily on the fascia. Remember, you’re not actively engaging the muscle. This high level of tension, which lasts for a long time, that the fascia is directly exposed to will cause the fascia itself to adapt.

    The second and for many the most important major benefit is that you will be re-training the motor recruitment patterns of your nervous system. I have personally seen this happen with myself. I now feel fatigue almost exclusively in my hamstrings and gluteals when I run. How do I know? I had to run 14 blocks this past weekend. I wasn’t planning on that, but it shows how fast the coding process can work. Before this past week, which was my first week applying these holds, I always felt it a lot in my calves and quads. Proper recruitment patterns lead to more efficient motion, which leads to higher power output AND much lower injury rates!

    The last major benefit has not yet been proven in humans, but it HAS BEEN observed in adult birds! This last benefit is hyperplasia, the growth of new muscle fibers! This is literally like adding new strands to a rope. If you take a nylon rope with 4 large strands and compare its strength with a nylon rope of the exact same size that has 4000 strands, you will find that the rope with more strands is much, much stronger. Why? Simple. Each strand has a more or less equal share of the load. That means each individual imperfection is under less stress, which means they are less likely to break. Muscles are no different than rope in that respect: The more fibers you have, the stronger you are capable of becoming.

    Now, how did this happen in birds? Here’s how: A weight was attached to the bird’s wing so that it was always stretched out. This was done for 3 weeks straight. Pre- and post-experiment muscle biopsies of the stretched muscle showed something crazy like more than a 200% gain in the NUMBER of muscle fibers! Holy smokes! Now, avian metabolism is around 10x faster than human metabolism, but it is suspected that long-duration training like the 5 minute holds can cause the same adaptation to occur in humans!

    Assuming this can happen, and taking into account the difference in metabolisms, it’s not unreasonable to think that six months to a year of consistent, daily exposure to these LDI holds can cause a very large increase in the number of muscle fibers.

    Now, a final word on the lunge: Your knee won’t be hitting the ground until you can literally do the front splits. Your rear leg should be completely straight. Yes, that means the hip flexors will be bearing a lot of the load. It hurts. That’s just part of the game. The plus is that you will be lengthening your hip flexors, which means you will be protecting your back from lumbar lordosis and other injuries/chronic conditions that the hip flexors are implicated in.

    When you DO eventually get to the point where your knee is brushing the ground with the back leg straight, elevate the back leg some.

    • Thanks for the erudite clarification, slizzardman. It’s hard to decipher very much from Jay Schroder’s rather “guarded” public discussions on the matter; do you know of a resource that we can go to for more information?

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